The Justice Department has convened a federal grand jury as part of a criminal investigation into Sherry-Lehmann Wine & Spirits, the venerable New York City wine merchant, according to former employees who have been contacted by the authorities.
Sherry-Lehmann, which was founded in Manhattan in 1934, has long been one of the elite sellers of fine wines in the United States. Last month, though, The New York Times reported that the store had not delivered large quantities of valuable wine to customers who had paid in advance. The Times also quoted former employees who believed Sherry-Lehmann was improperly selling clients’ rare bottles from a storage facility to other customers.
The criminal investigation is being conducted by agencies including the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, the Postal Service and the New York Police Department. It is focused, at least in part, on Shyda Gilmer and Kris Green, the owners of Sherry-Lehmann, according to the former employees, who said they had been questioned about their dealings with the owners.
Witnesses have been asked to appear before a federal grand jury in Manhattan later this month, the former employees said.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment. Representatives of the F.B.I., which is involved in the investigation; the Postal Service; and the New York Police Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Eric Andrus, a spokesman for Sherry-Lehmann, didn’t respond to requests for comment about the investigation. Mr. Gilmer and Mr. Green also did not respond to requests for comment.
Mr. Gilmer and Mr. Andrus have previously said that the delivery of some wine was delayed by Covid-19 and tariffs on French wines and that the store would deliver any missing wines by the end of the year. They denied that Sherry-Lehmann improperly sold bottles from Wine Caves, the storage facility that Mr. Gilmer and Mr. Green own.
The New York State Liquor Authority suspended Sherry-Lehmann’s liquor license this year after the store failed to pay a renewal fee. Before the license was restored weeks later, Sherry-Lehmann sold $358,000 of wine to a real estate investor, according to invoices and other records reviewed by The Times.
Mr. Gilmer previously denied that Sherry-Lehmann sold wine while its license was suspended, saying the real estate investor simply wanted his wine transferred from Wine Caves to another storage facility. Mr. Gilmer didn’t address why a Sherry-Lehmann invoice listed the transaction as a sale.
Three Sherry-Lehmann customers have filed lawsuits against the store, claiming to have never received more than $1 million in wine that they had paid for. Sherry-Lehmann has denied wrongdoing and sought to dismiss the suits. (The Times disclosed in its May 25 article that this reporter had paid about $6,300 for wine that he never received from Sherry-Lehmann.)
After The Times article was published, the State Liquor Authority opened an investigation, according to William Crowley, a spokesman for the authority. The authority is cooperating with the criminal investigation.
Mr. Gilmer started at Sherry-Lehmann as a temporary worker before becoming a full-time salesman and eventually a co-owner. Mr. Green is a former hedge fund executive and Sherry-Lehmann customer who became co-owner in 2013.
The Times reported last month that wine owned by Mercedes Bass, the former wife of oil billionaire Sid Bass, had been removed from Wine Caves without her permission and delivered to another customer. Mr. Gilmer said at the time that the transfer was a mistake and would be returned to the Bass family within days, along with all the other wine the Basses were storing at Wine Caves.
Mr. Andrus said the Bass family picked up its wine on June 1. A spokeswoman for the family responded that wasn’t true.
Sherry-Lehmann’s Park Avenue store has been closed since March. Mr. Andrus said it would reopen soon. The Wine Spectator magazine recently reported that Sherry-Lehmann’s landlord planned to move to evict the store unless it paid $3.6 million in back rent by June 16. Mr. Andrus said on Friday that Sherry-Lehmann “has met its rent obligations.”
Sherry-Lehmann is also delinquent on $2.7 million in unpaid sales tax and owes lenders millions of dollars more.
People familiar with the criminal investigation said the Justice Department was taking the lead, in part because wine was shipped across state lines.
The investigation is being handled in part by the F.B.I.’s art crime team, whose mission includes investigations involving rare antiques and other valuable collectibles. Some of the wines sold by Sherry-Lehmann sell for thousands of dollars a bottle.